Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Community Tragedy













Recently our small community of Albany experienced a string of tragic events which have shaken our town to its core.

  • 9/24 AUSD learns of allegations of inappropriate actions between teacher and student. Places teacher on leave
  • 9/26 morning APD arrests teacher
  • 9/26 AUSD notifies parents about classroom shuffling and announces parent-only meeting
  • 9/26 8:17p Teacher formerly booked into Custody
  • 9/27 morning Teacher released on bail
  • 9/27 5pm  AUSD parent meeting addressing events
  • 9/28  Teacher's 2pm hearing  postponed until 10/24
  • 10/1 10:30a Sheriff receives call about teacher's death; body discovered along road in San Lorenzo
  • 10/1 3:14p AUSD notifies parents of death, indicating would not inform students till next day
  • 10/2 8:30a AUSD holds press conference regarding teacher's death

James Izumizaki, 28, was a teacher and counselor at Albany Middle School. Judging by the many comments left on Albany Patch articles by students and parents he was well liked and admired.

Interspersed with those positive comments were others vilifying the school district, police and Albany Patch - who was the news outlet which initially broke the story.

Many comments suggested AUSD was at fault for not investigating further before reporting to the police. It is NOT the responsibility of the school district to decide if police notification is warranted.

California Penal code places teachers and administrators among professionals REQUIRED to report such allegations to the police. (Penal Code § 11165.7). Furthermore, they could be held liable for not reporting (Penal Code §§ 11166(c); 11166.01).

* * *

Many comments suggested APD hastily arrested Izumizaki and that the plea for others to come forward was nothing more than efforts to fabricate a case.

At this point the public does not know what information police had prior to arresting Izumizaki. What should be assumed is there WAS enough Probable Cause to bring charges. Probable Cause does NOT equate guilt. It only means the police have something needing further investigation.

Izumizaki was obviously not considered a flight risk, or else bail would have been higher than the statutory minimum. Or a judge could have denied bail outright.

In fact, Izumizaki was released by the next morning, with notice to appear Friday. That hearing was then delayed three weeks. Having formal charges brought within seven days would have been unusual without damning evidence so a delay was not surprising.

* * *

Comments have suggested that by Albany Patch providing ANY coverage at all it ruined Izumizaki's life. That this private matter was none of our business.

Arrest records ARE a matter of public record.

For right or wrong, teachers are held to a higher standard because of their contact with children. They are placed in a position of trust.

The mere reporting of a public arrest in no way takes a side, guilty or innocent. Are there news outlets which purposely drive an agenda? Absolutely. Do I believe Albany Patch was guilty of that? No. It ONLY reported what HAD happened, without editorial comment.

To see what reporting with editorial comment looks like, check out footage of Nancy Grace's coverage of the Casey Anthony Trial. For me she clearly biased even before formal charges were filed.

* * *

Might Izumizaki's tragic end been prevented if things had been handled differently by Patch, AUSD or APD? Possibly. It's currently impossible for the public to say what Izumizaki's final act was motivated by. But, that does not make them libel for that act either.

Was the Albany Patch headline referring to "Lewd Acts" really necessary? Patch did not come up with that legal definition. It was merely citing the official wording used by the government. (At no time has Patch written a headline about Izumizaki with the word "molestation" as one commentator stated).

Was that a charged-sounding headline to use? Yes.
Was it deliberately used to imply Guilt? No.
Could the headline have been reworded to not include "lewd?" Perhaps.

However, the fact remains those were publicly available charges which any responsible reporter would have included, at the very least, in the body of the article.

Should commenting have been turned off on articles? Hind sight is 20/20.

I can understand the rationale on why public comments were allowed - To allow people an outlet to express feelings on a very serious situation.

In retrospect, comments seem to have accomplished nothing more than vilifying Patch, APD, AUSD, or the person alleging the improper relationship.

* * *

I've personally known two people who have committed suicide. One was because they were in the final stages of terminal cancer. That reason, though extreme, could be comprehended.

The other had been fighting an ongoing battle with mental illness. From what I understand intimate friends saw no outside appearances treatment wasn't working. Then one morning they simply found them dead. Two weeks before that I'd seen them smiling and happily dancing around.

No matter what drove him, the ultimate responsibility for the decision to take his life lies with Izumizaki.

One commenter would have liked to have heard Izumizaki's side of the allegations. By taking his own life, Izumizaki chose to remain silent, except for any parting comments he put in the note found inside his car.

It now rests with the Alameda County judicial system on whether they will release any contents from that note. Doing so could provide some closure to everyone involved, and it would be coming from Izumizaki.

My heart goes out to Izumizaki's family and co-workers. They will have to live with the knowledge of these events for the rest of their lives.

My heart also goes out the student who brought the allegation to light, as well as the students who are now confused after having nothing but good memories of the man.

I'm afraid this chain of incidents will be with us for weeks to come.

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